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:: Spotlight :: Henry Rollins: One Very Talkative Man

By: Mark Rasmussen

Henry Rollins has come a long way for a man who once worked in an ice-cream shop. From front man for seminal punk rock outfit Black Flag, to an actor who has appeared in such movies like ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Heat’, through to an acclaimed author and spoken-word comedian, Rollins is one diverse, adaptable character.

In town for a quick promo tour, he admits to being a man who needs to be “constantly challenged”. So with his latest project, the aptly named television program, ‘The Henry Rollins Show’ allowing him to do what he does best - talk - Rollins is aware of how one little incident all those years ago set him up for the life he has now.

“I don't think I would be where I am now without being in Black Flag because everything else came after. That was the shot, that was the break,” Rollins exclaims.

“I was in a minimum wage job, which is not a put down to minimum wage work but I was in a store working 8-12 hours a day scooping ice-cream. I got to be in Black Flag. The band broke up after four years. I then formed my own band, pushed my publishing company where I've written a lot of books. I started to do a lot more of the talking shows, which led to voice-over work and acting work. In that time I just tried to do good work, then one thing leads to another and then maybe, the culmination of that leads to a TV show. The basic upshot is that I got very lucky auditioning with a pre-existing band, made the cut and here I am.”

And here he is indeed. A muscular, tattooed guy with a strong voice and even stronger opinions. But that's the beauty of Henry Rollins, he isn't afraid to speak his mind. Although some might be put off by his appearance, there are many who don't, myself included. In fact, Rollins is something of a cult hero, an icon to not only those afraid to speak up but to politicians, US soldiers, heavyweight film producers, actors and bands. Popular not just to kids who love hard music with attitude but also to the many educated people who find his frankness, well refreshing.

I wondered though, if through his vitriolic thoughts that sometimes he feels like even he crosses the line, says the wrong thing or rubs people the wrong way. In true Rollins fashion, he is honest, as only he can be.

“I don't think I say anything offensive,” Rollins says. “I don't think when I say that the Bush administration needs to tell the truth about Iraq, I don't think I am being offensive. I just want these people to tell the truth and if that offends or I call the president a criminal, and that's a hell of a thing to say, but you know what - I think he is. But if that offends someone then I don't care!”

It's this confronting attitude where it seems some people do however, with Rollins freely admitting he gets plenty of hate-mail - interesting hate-mail. It's something he finds more amusing than threatening.

“I get the most boneheaded hate-mail and emails. Like some people say, ‘Oh we're just nipping it in the bud dude! You should wake up and smell the coffee.’ It's wild some of the stuff that comes across my desk and so if I offend that guy, then boy, I'm not losing any sleep over that,” he laughs loudly.

“Confrontation? Absolutely! I need to be confronted, you need to confronted. This is my version of Vitamin C. I‘m all about confrontation as it keeps the thoughts lean and the blood thin. It makes you have to constantly reassess what you think. Debate. It keeps us as a nation strong. Dissent or someone going, 'I think that's bull.’ I think boy you need that. You have to tell the truth, you must tell the truth, especially when you're sending young men into a situation where they're coming back blown up, their head's are messed up, or their dead… you've got to tell the truth.”

This is the very thing Rollins is aiming for when he interviews his guests. He wants people to speak up, speak their minds, tell the truth, and in most cases he gets exactly that. He gets them to open up and express their real thoughts. A credit then to Rollins who has a unique style, which doesn't exactly follow the rule book.

“I am trying to get interesting people to be interesting on the show. That‘s what I am going for or interesting people to talk about different things than they're usually asked. Like Don Cheadle, the actor. We had him on the show and I didn't even talk about acting. I just talked about, 'You went to Rwanda, did a great movie… let's talk about the relocation camps you visited, let's talk about you meeting orphans, let's talk about AIDS in Africa, let's talk racism’. And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah great’, and here‘s Don Cheadle completely talking about a topic he can't get on shows like 'Letterman’. So I wanted to have a show where he could come on and talk about that.”

“I don't think every show necessarily needs to be serious all the time but you know what, we must hit it where they ain't to use a baseball analogy. We've got to be different somehow, otherwise why have a TV talk show?”

His chat show, which sadly for some of us, is only available on cable, is a real eye-opening talk show. No stupid questions, no lame jokes, just one interesting guy talking to another interesting person. This is how Henry likes it and what he loves most.

“Let's talk. Let's get some interesting ideas across and if you are able to persevere and see more episodes of the show, then you will see we were able to do that. We got interesting people and we got good interviews because we approached them with energy and a lot of commitment. We did our prep, we made sure they knew they were welcome and that they were selected. It wasn't a cattle call, we went to them,” Rollins says proudly.

“I need to be interested in them. I don‘t want to insult that person. What if I'm not interested in you! You shouldn't be on the show because I don't won't to fake it. I don't want the audience to go, 'Oh look at Henry, acting like he's interested’, because now that's selling out, that's not staying true to the game.”

“Thankfully, I'm interested in a lot of people and people interest me. A lot of great writers, singers, songwriters, actors, politicians…you know there's people doing cool stuff all the time. I have a long list of people, we go to all of them, and we beg,” he says.

“You know, I offered to sleep with Darryl Hannah if she came on the show. ‘I will lend my body to you if you come on the show’, that might interest you,” Rollins jokes. “She came on the show anyway… of course I'm kidding,” he says with a cheeky, humorous grin.

So how does he go about selecting the people he interviews? Do they have to pass a test, set criteria or is there more to it than that? Rollins explains.

“We have a want list and sometimes some of the calls are easier than others, like Ozzy Osbourne, he was keen because we‘ve toured together. Jeff Bridges. I did a movie with Jeff. Oliver Stone. I've palled around with Oliver before, I've had dinner and talked to him before. So it's not like, 'Henry who?’.”

“Then there's people like PT Anderson, who I've never met but he's a fan, we're mutual fans. So, it comes together in all kinds of ways.”

“We beg because we're not a big show, we've got no budget and we're not going to make anybody rich or famous, but we're going to let them say what they want, we're cable! You can curse, you can jump up and down, take your clothes off, and with the bands, it's the same,” Rollins says even more enthusiastically.

“The Mars Volta played on the show and their song was like 12 minutes long. They said, ‘How are you going to edit this?’. ‘Edit? We wouldn't dear edit it. It's not for us to edit it or tell you how to be’. On that show, we had to adapt to the band that night,” he chuckles.

Just like the guests he hand picks, it's exactly the same concept for the bands who appear on his show. This in turn gives some of the bands who often get overlooked and don't get that wider exposure or are considered “unsafe” a chance to show their wares. It works, and well as Rollins explains.

“I like the music and I like the bands, so I call them up. Dinosaur Jr, Frank Black, Aimee Mann…some people will watch and go, ‘Nah, it's not my thing’, but well, you get that. I get them on because I like them,” he says candidly.

“I'm open to anything and I get a lot of suggestions from the producers, my manager and all his manager friends. Sometimes I have to go no, no, no, no. I'm not a snob but I only get 20 shows a year and I just want it to be excellent. So if it's kind of a cool rock band or not, I don't care unless I think they've got real potential.”

Rollins is particularly happy with his guests and choice of bands, especially as it flies in the face of the more commercial networks who wouldn't dare expose many of these acts to their audiences. That's the best thing about being on cable - less red tape and less people to answer to.

“We don‘t have some 'Clear’ channel guy going, ‘Oh I don't think they're big enough, we better get Puddle of Mudd instead’. With IFC (Independent Film Channel) it‘s like, 'Who's this band?’ ‘Oh it's just a band Henry likes’. ‘Oh ok,’ and that's pretty much all the clearance we need.”

“There‘s a band on the show that not many people may have heard of called, Deadboy and the Elephant. I think they're great! I was so happy we got them on the show and I think it was like the first time they had ever been on TV. Heidi May (Rollins’ co-producer and assistant) put on the record one day and she said, ‘This is a great band’. She loved that record so much and said let‘s get them on the show. So we called them and they're like, 'Yeah!’. So they showed up and they killed it,” Rollins says happily.

“We were happy to give them a break and now they've gone on to things like Lollapalooza, and people just dig them. They've got heavy rotation on the radio and things are really taking off for them. So we're open to suggestions and don't care who they are or what they've done. It makes no difference, if we like them, then that's all we care.”

So where to next for Henry Rollins - the man who boards over 100+ planes during any given year, takes in numerous countries during the expeditions of his, and in his own words, needs to be constantly challenged?

“This year I'm fully booked. The TV show will take me up until July. I have a film I am working in being shot in Moscow, the radio show keeps me busy, and I am working on three different books, one of which will definitely be out this year, hopefully two. Then in September, October, November, I will be sneaking dates in North America while December needs to be at least one USO tour spending Christmas with the troops in a hot, dangerous environment. Then we go into double O-eight and I don't know what that holds.”

“O-seven is kind of booked but we're also hoping that in July and August, which is not planned out yet, I'm hoping to do some USO work in that time, going to Iraq and Afghanistan - if they allow me.”

The Henry Rollins Show, which takes an uncensored and completely candid approach, striking a wonderful balance between humour, politics, art and intellect and best described as, “an independent alternative for the artistically savvy audience which is intelligent and informed”, can be seen Friday nights at 10.00pm on the Movie Extra channel. The season kicks off in earnest on May 4. Take it from me, this is one show you simply have to see!